By David Reed, UT EditorLeverkusen , Germany-The Bayer Group says it enjoyed a strong first quarter, with substantial advances in both sales and earnings. All subgroups contributed to this positive development, the company said, in a 10 May release presenting its interim first-quarter report showing total sales up 16 percent, at €6704 million ($8617 million), and EBIT of €1004 million, up from €754 million in the first quarter of 2004.Bayer MaterialScience, which encompasses the firm's polyurethanes business, performed particularly well, posting by far the largest increase in sales, the statement added. Total sales for the segment expanded by over 35 percent to €2544 million ($3270 million), while EBIT for the segment trebled to €406 million. The statement added that the main growth drivers for these changes came from its polycarbonate and MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) materials, as well as its H.C. Starck business, which supplies metal powders, ceramic and electronic chemicals. Geographically, the biggest increase in sales was achieved in Europe, where revenues rose by just under 24 percent to €3109 million, due especially to business expansion in Bayer MaterialScience and the acquisition of the Roche OTC business. Group sales in Germany advanced by 31 percent to €1030 million, though this was partly because sales to Lanxess, the recently divested bulk chemicals business, are reported as external as of the date of the spin-off. Without this effect or the additional sales volume acquired from Roche, the increase in Germany amounted to about 10 percent, Bayer said.Currency-adjusted sales in North America grew by 8.1 percent to €1783 million, with continued strong demand for industrial products and brisk business with crop protection products in the United States offsetting the decline in sales of Cipro, the firm's anti-infectious disease drug In Asia-Pacific, MaterialScience recorded substantial growth, including a more than 60-percent improvement in China. The HealthCare subgroup also posted a pleasing performance in the region, especially in Japan, but CropScience sales were down. Group sales in Asia-Pacific as a whole climbed by 18.9 percent in local currencies, to €1038 million. In Latin America/Africa/Middle East, currency-adjusted sales increased by 15.1 percent to €774 million thanks to a positive market trend, especially in the industrial sector, Bayer concluded."